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Total Eclipse of the Heart… or was it the Port?

By: Samantha Valentin, Erin Jones and Raya Maitland

SUNY Brockport held one of its biggest events of the year hosting a viewing for the once-in-a-lifetime total solar eclipse.

Between the nice weather, food trucks and numerous outside activities, the East Field was packed with people from all over New York and neighboring states. What really drew people in, however, were the live performances.

Starting off the day’s music was Alfred St. John’s Trinidad and Tobago Steelband. Alfred St. John started this band in 1972 with his passion for music and desire to represent his home country.

Alfred St. John after performing on the East Field, April 8, 2024. (Samantha Valentin)

“Of course, I had a lot of experience with steel drums because it’s the national instrument of Trinidad and Tobago, and that’s where these drums were invented,” St. John said. “So it was not difficult for me to get the steel drums. What was difficult was to find players who had the same experience that I had growing up.”

St. John is very passionate about the steel drums. He began his band because he wanted to break away from the monotony of his office job in Rochester with something that connected more to his roots and culture.

“There were a lot of misconceptions as to where the steel drums originated,” St. John said. “I wanted to make it clear that that’s where it came from. Trinidad and Tobago was where it was invented. It started out with people beating on old garbage cans, and discarded brake drums from automobiles and stuff like that, anything that you can use to make music of a percussive nature.”

Being able to share a part of his home in every performance is important to St. John, because it is an opportunity for people to learn about a new instrument and culture.

“Every performance is different,” St. John said. “I mean, people will respond to the instrument because it’s new. These instruments are the most recent instruments to be recognized by both the American and British academics of music.”

Many eclipse-goers got to see steel drums for the first time and were able to learn about the newer instrument. University at Albany graduate student Brianna Thompson came to visit her sister, who attends Brockport, and witness the solar eclipse, but was entranced by the live music.

“We’re excited about the bands playing and getting to kind of experience the general vibe of everybody collecting together in one place,” Thompson said.

The next band to perform was Nik and the Nice Guys. Lead singer Bob Greco has been with the band for approximately 35 years. Nik and the Nice Guys performed almost everywhere they could have imagined — then they received the call to perform at the solar eclipse.

Bob Greco after performing on the East Field, April 8, 2024. (Samantha Valentin)

“We’ve done 21 Super Bowls, we do a lot of Hollywood parties, we’ve done the Olympics in Barcelona, Germany, Japan, we’ve played for presidents, kings and queens,” Greco said. “You name it, we’ve done it. We’ve just never done an eclipse before.”

Greco and the band played a wide variety of hits before and after totality hit the field. During one song, their saxophone player lost his balance onstage and fell. Even when something unexpected arises, the show must go on.

“He took a dive but he kept playing,” Greco said. “We lifted him up and he went back and he kept playing. You know, after the show we will decide whether you got hurt.”

Being in the industry for so long has allowed Greco to realize these accidents happen and he has to be prepared for when they do.

“Instead of trying to not draw attention to it, I make fun of it. Then everybody laughs and it’s like it never happened,” Greco said.

The crowd was up on their feet dancing along with Nik and the Nice Guys throughout their performance. Greco has learned some other tips and tricks while performing to keep the crowd engaged and feed off of their energy.

“You know, if you make the crowd feel like they’re part of the show it just makes them feel like they know you. They’re more relaxed about dancing and singing,” Greco said.

The performances from both Alfred St. John’s Trinidad and Tobago Steelband and Nik and the Nice Guys helped ramp up excitement for the eclipse. Their performances contributed to the fun-filled day eclipse-goers had on Brockport’s campus.

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